Understanding the value of a first impression, Graeme Ferguson ensured that IMAX made a doozy of one. The film opens with a mysterious blue square that covers just a fraction of the screen. Suddenly an immense image fills the radically expanded visual field. Wielded by Ferguson, the camera seems to skim a few metres above Lake Superior at an impossibly fast speed. Pounding drums add to the sense of propulsion as we hurtle forward into the landscape and, as some awed viewers may have realised even then, into the future of filmmaking itself.
A later sequence of a wild toboggan run increased North of Superior’s wow factor while images of logging machinery suggested other aspects of humankind’s relationship to the land. Ferguson’s film did more than show viewers the massive potential of IMAX as a cinematic form; it also created a template for so much of its future content. With its stunning portrayal of Canada’s great outdoors, North of Superior functioned equally well as noble-minded educational tool and amusement park thrill ride.
Update: You can now watch North of Superior for free thanks to its return to IMAX and Cinesphere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.